The Wage Gap in Professional Soccer

The Wage Gap in Professional Soccer

Since the establishment of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, wage discrimination based on sex has been illegal in the United States; however, just because it is illegal, does not mean that it is nonexistent. The wage gap is defined as the difference in pay between men and women (Bosson, Vendello, & Buckner, p. 387). In the United States, reports from across all industries show a gap in wages between men and women with professional sports being no exception to gender inequality. Over the past five years, the United States Women’s National Team has been at the forefront of the fight for equal pay between male and female professional athletes. In what has been a bleak history of unequal salaries, the U.S. Women’s National Team has become a beacon of hope for female athletes across the world. One American player, Christen Press, described it as a “women’s coming together movement” in the plight against the wage gap (Das, 2018). Discrimination takes on many forms, and one of the most extensive examples of sex-based discrimination can be seen in the wage gap. While fighting for equal pay, the United States Women’s National Team showcases the extent to which biases against women are reflected in the wage gap.

The barring of women from sports has been shown to stem from the general masculinization of athletics (Kossen, 2018). This masculinization occurred in response to the industrial revolution when most men left the home to work in factories. During this time, athletics were seen as a channel for young men to maintain and develop their masculinity while father figures were away. This led to the initial exclusion of women in sports, which only made it more difficult for women to become accepted in professional sports. Occupational feminization refers to the process of large amounts of women entering, what used to be, male- dominated fields (Bosson et al., p. 393). This especially applies to the incorporation of women in the typically male-dominated field of professional sports. Olson (2012) found that the wage gap has remained constant despite the value of U.S. women’s human capital variables have increased. The same can be said about the wage gap in professional sports. Although women’s entrance into professional soccer made progress in the late 1960s, the repercussions of male dominance are just beginning to be addressed. Currently, the United States Women’s National team stands at the forefront of the battle for equal pay.

The United States Women’s National Team was the first female professional team to elicit a change in the wage gap. Their campaign for equal pay was both a social justice issue and an economic issue. In speaking about motivations for pursuing this campaign, USWNT player Carli Lloyd wrote, “We are not backing down anymore... This isn’t about a money grab. It’s about treating people the way they deserve to be treated, no matter their gender” (2016). It is clear that the fight is about the inequality of the situation and not a paycheck. One argument made for equal pay was that the U.S. Women’s National Team was consistently outperforming the U.S. Men’s National Team, but their pay rates reflected the opposite (Green & Novy- Williams, 2017). This incongruence in pay can be related to the prove-it-again bias, which refers to how women have to work harder than men in order to attain high-status positions (Bosson et al., p. 382). However, in this situation, it seemed that no matter how many times the team proved their worth, they were never fairly compensated.

Additionally, motherhood may obstruct women’s upward mobility in the workplace. The maternal wall is a term used to describe the hindrance of motherhood on women in the workplace (Bosson et al., p. 382). Hillary Lips states that:

The fact that women, particularly mothers, are often pushed out of full-time work or relegated to lower-status positions in which they have less access to work hours or to the promotions that would lead to more challenging positions, is confirmed by a significant body of research. (p. 6)

Motherhood is highly rewarding, but for some women, additional stressors arise when they face the maternal wall. Statistically, women who are mothers are rated as not as competent and less likely to be hired by employers. Surprisingly, in 2015, the USWNT had three women on their roster who were also mothers. Their athletic success is a testament to the competency of all working mothers, and in no way did their childbearing hinder their athletic expertise. One American player, in particular, Sydney Leroux, spoke about the ups and downs of being a mother and a professional athlete. In Leroux’s player she says:

I’m at this crazy crossroads of like do I continue; do I stop to grow our family again? That’s tough because when I was pregnant, I loved supporting my husband. But he got to do what I love too. There’s no stopping for him. For me, it was like everything came to a halt. Yes, we play the same sport, but it’s different. Can he travel with Cassius by himself? No, that’s just not a thing, and I think that was difficult for me. I think that I’m just proud of the fact that I’m still going. I’m still chasing the same dreams I chased when I was a little girl. (WNSL, 2018)

Leroux, whose husband plays in the men’s professional league (MLS), talks about the limitations she faces as being a mother versus the few limitations her husband faces as a father. Despite the difficulties that come with motherhood, Leroux continues to play professional soccer. She currently plays for the Orlando Pride and has continued to be successful in her career as an athlete after having a child.

One possible explanation for the wage gap between professional athletes is illustrated in the status incongruity hypothesis. The status incongruity hypothesis states that those who violate gender roles are viewed negatively (Bosson et al., p. 165). This hypothesis asserts that typical gender roles serve to reinforce gender inequality, and contributes to the idea that, cross- culturally, men should have higher status than women. In order to succeed in athletics, one must be assertive, confident, and competitive; typically, professional athletes possess qualities of agency (Hoiness, Weathington, & Cotrell, 2008). All of these qualities are typically associated with men and not with women. The wage gap can be seen as a manifestation of the penalties faced by gender role violators. This also relates a term called tightrope, which refers to women being looked down upon for possession qualities of agency that are typically associated with men (Bosson et al., 383). Women are further viewed negatively because, in today’s binary society, a woman who is assertive cannot also be warm and nurturing. As a result, women are discriminated against for the gender proscriptions of their biological sex.

Another possible explanation of the wage gap between male and female professional soccer players is known as the old boys’ network. The old boys’ network refers to a system in which groups of high-powered male figures exclude women in important decision making in order to help men (Bosson et al., p. 381). The National Women’s Soccer League is a branch of the United States Soccer Federation. Since the early 20th century, the USSF has been continuously run by men. More specifically, since its foundation in 1914, the federation has yet to be run by a female president. Kossen (2017) found that one reason the wage gap is persistent is due to it being ingrained in the structure of organizations and becoming institutionalized. The deep embedding of patriarchy in the United States Soccer Federation ensures a male-dominated sport. The gender incongruity in the federation mirrors the wage incongruity. Hogue, Yoder, & Singleton (2007) showed that “Men have internalized their normatively higher social position and are unwilling to forego the privilege of high reward that accompanies that position when that privilege is openly threatened” (p. 5). With research revealing a trend towards men in power refusing to relinquish power, perhaps a continual male president has reinforced the idea that male athletes are worth more. Furthermore, it is typically the case that a former professional male soccer player becomes the president. This also may lead to ingroup bias into the male athletes’ pay.

One implication of the gender wage gap is the resource scarcity it produces among female athletes. For example, in the National Women’s Soccer League, the maximum salary is $44,000 per player while in Major League Soccer the men’s salary cap is over $500,000 (MLS, 2018). Overall, each team in the NWSL is only allocated $350,000 to support the salaries of all roster members (NWSL, 2017). This figure, divided among 24 athletes, is still less than what one individual player has the potential to make in the men’s league. This may result in competition for salary among players. In psychology, the term tug of war refers to women having to compete with each other for scarce resources (Bosson et al., p. 383). The professional female players are no exception. In an industry where the salary is based on performance, each female player is in direct competition with her teammate for the scarce resource, which in this case is money.

While the enormity of the wage gap is discouraging, there are many things that can be done to counteract this form of discrimination. For example, due to the increase in popularity and revenue from women’s soccer, women’s wages have already begun to rise on their own. For the 2018 season, the funding allotments per team were raised from $315,000 to $350,000 (Goldberg, 2018). Closing the wage gap may progress slowly over time, but it is already happening. Another way to eliminate the wage gap could be to insert a steady line of female leadership in order to ensure that the issue is not being conveniently overlooked. Female leadership could also focus on women’s rights and make progress towards helping athletes who are mothers perform to the best of their capability in both roles. This could even lead to the incorporation of paid maternity leave rights. Overall, there are many steps that need to be taken in order to close the wage gap between professional male and female soccer players. Positive change has already started and will hopefully continue to progress with time.



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